Speaker speaking various phrases at a set frequency.

8 Common Phrases to Avoid in Speeches


Speeches, our worst nightmare! Speaking in front of a crowd who is watching your every move is scary enough, it is terrifying to not know what to say.
But that is going to change for you now. We are going to cover various phrases and words that are a big no no in Public Speaking to help you plan, structure and deliver your speech better and more confidently.

There are certain phrases and words which, when used puts off the audience, is unnecessary or is simply not framed correctly. These make your speech sound, weak, exaggerated, boring or inefficient, a good way to build on your speaking skills is to watch out for such words or phrases and practice actively avoiding them.

Phrases you should avoid and how:

1. Doubts.

I suppose

I think so

I guess

I don’t know

I am not sure

Woman expressing doubtfulness while giving a speech.

When delivering a speech, you need to remember that no one knows your content and delivery better than you. You are there on that stage to present something you’ve put time and effort into preparing for.

When you appear doubtful or unclear about your explanation, you tend to undermine yourself and the content you have worked hard to curate.

Doubting Phrases are direct announcements of your uncertainty.

We have noticed that most speakers tend to do this when they aren’t confident about their content. If that is the case for you as well, fish out your speech and figure out the right answer to all your doubts and work and build on your content once you have all the facts straight.

A quick way to avoid this is to personalise it, after all, no one can question your personal experience!

For Example: “In my experience, 2+2 has made a fish symbol, of course there are always other studies that may say other wise, like 2+2 is four.”

2. Undermining Yourself / Your Experiences.

I have just started working on it in the past year.

I only had a small role in the movie.

I barely match up to their level.

We have spoken about how various other factors like doubtfulness undermines your speech or yourself, and yet there are others ways which you can do that. Enough that it is a separate sub-heading in this article!

What we mean here is, when people are building something or are fairly new to something, they tend to under-sell themselves or their work by making it look small or insignificant.

These phrases will begin to affect your confidence in the long run and we don’t want that, do we? Take pride in what you do and know that learning is a long process, you’ll get there, soon, but where you are also took effort, don’t forget that.

3. Apologies.

I apologize for my network

I am sorry, this mic isn’t working, sorry my voice isn’t loud enough

I am sorry I got logged out

Sign boards showing various apologetic phrases one should avoid in a speech.

Sometimes, when things don’t go as planned, speakers assume the best thing to do is apologise to the audience. Even though it may come across as humble to some, it forces you to stray from your content and this brings back the audience to the present from the engaging journey of your speech.

Apologising in such situations often throws the issue in the spotlight at well, and as humans love to find faults, that mistake will be remembered by everyone there and their brains will prioritise that little hiccup over the amazing content you spent days collecting and preparing for this speech.

As the world moves to the digital space, technical difficulties are bound to happen and usually don’t take that long to resolve themselves. It could also be possible that the audience does not even realise that you are facing a technical difficulty.

The best thing to do is patient and wait for a few minutes before taking any action, if it is crucial for your speech, like a presentation or a microphone.

If it is something which you can do without, like your virtual background on a virtual call, you don’t need to point it out.

Remember, if the issue persists for longer than 5 minutes, form your own judgement.
Would it be possible to continue without your presentation?
Were the next slides not as content heavy that it would be important to show them?
Is my voice loud enough to be clear to an audience of this size, without straining my voice?

Another great way to keep the audience engaged would be to open the floor for questions and engage in hearty chatter until the tech team works on the issue.

If you are looking for a way to improve your Online Presentation Skills, check out our YouTube Video: Online Presentation: 7 Effective Ways to Engage a Virtual Audience.

4. Presentation Issues

This slide is a little busy

The text is too small, I’ll read it out for you.

A strong presentation would not give the presenter the need to mention the above or any other related points.

In the first phrase, the slide is busy, and the presenter acknowledges the fact that it is, this raises the question that why was this issue not solved in the preparation and development stage? It makes you look unprepared and gives off the impression that you haven’t bothered to revise your work.

The second phrase is a BIG red flag.
Why?

Well, a presentation is never there for you to read out from.

A presentation is merely a key or reference for the presenter to explain and build on his point and for the audience it is a guide to make it easier for them to follow.

If you are looking for a way to up your presentation skills, we have written an extensive article on the same: A Guide to The Techniques of Presentation.

5. Overused phrases and audience engagement tactics

Close your eyes and imagine

Raise your hand if you agree

Phrases like these, albeit good engagement tools have been used one to many times and there is no surprise element and something the audience is expecting. It adds no value to your speech.

However, these aren’t complete no nos, but simply I’d suggest to be stringent with such phrases, use your style and uniqueness. You know your topic and that is information enough for you to know which tool may suit best based on your content.

6. Quotes

Even impossible says I am possible

Time is money

I came, I saw, I conquered

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step

What doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger

You’ve heard them all, everyone has, in books, movies, speeches, posters, coffee mugs you name it!

I’ve made my point. They have been used too much to make a lasting impact, majority of the people know these and so many other quotes so using them would not pique their interest.

Instead, wherever in your speech you feel a quote would add weight to your topic or delivery, search for a quote using your topic as a keyword, you will end up with much more relevant and impactful quotes.

7. Announcements

Now by announcements I don’t mean

“Car number 0123, your alarm has gone off, please report to the valet booth immediately”

Or

“A child name XYZ has been looking for their parent, they are wearing a green t-shirt with brown sneakers, please approach the manager’s desk if they are your ward.

Don’t get me wrong, as much as these kill the mood and interrupt the flow of a speech, I’d like to focus on the announcements you are possibly making during your speech.

What do you mean “announcements”?

Announcements here, mean any verbal cue or signal that you give your audience with the aim to inform them what you are going to do next.

For Example:

I’d like to begin with…

My topic is…

I am going to talk about…

This is what I mean when I say…

This is what we are going to do today…

I would like to conclude by saying…

These phrases often break away from the speech and sound as if you are hand holding the crowd through your speech. It may sound cliché, but no matter what the topic of your speech it, the aim is to take the audience on a journey. To not tell them what you are going to do but show them.

Let them decide what to do with the information you give them, let them comprehend where you are in your speech and make them expect and think “what’s next?”

This gives you are chance to build to a strong and satisfying conclusion.

8. Clarifications

Clarifications sound good in a classroom, when delivering a speech, you need to make sure you don’t turn from a speaker to a teacher.

Try to avoid phrases like:

With me so far?

Can you understand?

Is everyone listening?

And other similar phrases and words. These bring out engagement and responses from the audience but they aren’t natural, nor do they add any value to your content.

Now that we have covered the possible phrases, here are some other tips and tricks about negative words that your speeches could do better without.

Negative words you need to look out for:

1. Filler Words:

What are filler words?

Well, umm, you know, basically, words that uh, take up time and uh space in your speech, kind of like, this sentence, like umm, every italicised word is considered a filler, so like, you get it, right?

A better and more direct explanation would be: Words that are included in your speech unnecessarily and take up your time without adding anything of value to your content or delivery.

Much better, right? Crisp, direct and a clear explanation is what will take your speech to the next level.

One important thing to keep in mind is that it is imperative that you learn to identify where a word is a filler and where it isn’t. This does NOT mean that you try to avoid these words altogether as in some cases they are extremely helpful in creating a buzz about your topic or they might even be used as a thought provoking cue or to engage the audience.

How do you gauge when a word is unnecessary or not?

This is an easy-peasy-lemon squeezy task. (Feel free to use this expression.)

What we need you to do first is:

1. Find out the weak points in your speech.

Weak points may be areas where you are unsure about your content, areas where there is too much data back-to-back and have the potential to make you fumble or forget. They may also be areas where you take intentional long pauses or may use other techniques of delivery to engage or amuse your audience.

2. Attack and improve.

Now that you have a fair idea of where you may forget, fumble or mess up, it is time to re-read and rephrase those sentences/segments.

The best option is to get rid of the jargon and complicated sentences and use simple speak-able language as it is both easy to remember and sits well with any type of audience.

2. Poor Expressions

These are similar to filler words but are harder to find as they often blend so well with conversational language that it is difficult to tell them apart from actual quality content.

We have come up with a fun exercise for you to try and figure out where such expressions are present in your speech.

Before we do that however, it is important to remember that even though your speech could benefit from sounding conversational, it should not contain the lingo or slang which is usually found in day-to-day conversation.

Why? It tends to undermine the speaker’s authority and content if we make it too sound too causal and after all, at the end of the day is a speech that you are delivering, not a conversation over coffee with your pal. You need to find the perfect balance between being approachable and remaining formal.

Now. Lets work on the exercise:

Once you are confident with your speech, begin delivering it without any reference material or cue cards. Do not forget to record yourself! Our goal is to find out where you are letting down your guard.

Pro Tip: You will usually find this in areas where you are explaining something.

While aiming to make it simple you may tend to deliver it as a conversation.

Once you find those areas, look for a way to make it sound more formal. For Example:

Original: Basically, we turned the knob to increase the pressure on the object and it kind of backfired with a loud booom.

Instead: We wanted to increase the pressure on the object. We turned the knob. BOOM, that was enough evidence for us to know that our plan had backfired.

In the above example, the explanation is simple, but in the alternative sentence, notice how the explanation stays engaging, funny yet, there is a thin line keeping it from turning into a casual anecdote.

3. Jargon

Magnifying glass trying to figure out jargons.

The clarity and levelness with which one transitions from one topic to another is a quality that builds with experience and constant implementation of learnings and observations.

If you have rolled your eyes enough at my constant sarcastic examples, you now know what Jargons do to your speech.

Jargons are not necessarily technical, they are just complex words that may look good on paper but when speaking, may sound to confusing or technical and make it hard for your audience to follow. Secret or open Boos are not what we are aiming for here!

Tried and tested formula for any killer speech is to use simple language and work on your delivery to make it engaging.

If the message isn’t clear yet: AVOID JARGONS, BIG NO NO AS AUDIENCE WILL GET UP AND GO GO. And we need them to go GAGA!

If you are struggling with Jargon or Data, check out this article we’ve written just for you!
10 Tips and Tricks to Present Data Confidently

4. There is no I in Team, try to avoid the me in it!

Paper-cut-outs of people showing how a speaker should include collective phrases in their speech.

Phrases that address only the speaker, or only a section of the audience is a serious deal breaker. You have a bunch of people sitting and eager to listen to you, and if you begin to focus on only your personal experiences, it tends to build a disconnect between you and the audience. Brace yourself for a bunch of sleepy and distracted faces.

Engage the whole crowd, because as soon as it becomes about them, they would want to listen.

5. Obviousness

We are at the 10th point of this article.

Now was that necessary? Absolutely not. Did it help you find out something you didn’t know before? No.
Even if you didn’t notice it, it wasn’t vital information, or helpful to you in anyway.

Use these three questions:

  1. Is it necessary?
  2. Is it new information?
  3. Is it important?

If the answer is no to these three, rephrase your point or omit it.

Quality over quantity. Always.

Final thoughts:

Too much of anything is never good. Pace yourself.

Try practising your speech with your friends or by yourself to find out areas of improvement. Remember, feedback is important, another pair of supportive ears will always help you grow and learn new things about yourself.

Hrideep Barot is the founder and chief writer at Frantically Speaking, a portal to help people learn everything about public speaking. The purpose of franticallyspeaking.com is to showcase the lessons that he has learned (and still learning) from his numerous stage experiences and mentors over all these years.

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